Kurds in Duhok.
(photo credit: COURTESY BAYAR ZAWITEY)
Mullah Mustafa Barzani sent a representative via Iran to Israel to seek allies in the Kurdish struggle for rights in Iraq. According to scholar Ofra Bengio, one of those the Kurds met with was then-defense minister Shimon Peres. It was the first of several clandestine meetings Peres had with Kurdish representatives, according to Kurdish sources.
On Wednesday, 54 years after Peres kindled a special relationship between the Kurds and Israel, Kurdish activists in Duhok held a memorial service for Peres. “We are deeply saddened by the passing of president Peres,” a black banner read at a courtyard in the center of the Kurdish city, which is home to 400,000 people.
According to Bayar Zawitey, a journalist and organizer of the event, more than 100 attended.
He said he has been following Peres and Israel for many years.
“We want to give a message to Israeli media and foundations, that I am 100% sure we will have independence and relations with Israel,” he wrote. “[Peres] previously supported Kurds and was continually defending and supporting our rights. In the 1960s, we had relations with Israel.”
He recalled how Mulla Mustafa was interviewed by Israeli media in the mountains while resisting the Iraqi army.
Duhok is located near the Turkish border and is one of the major cities in the autonomous region of the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq. A Saddam Hussein-era prison and fort dominates one entrance to the bucolic city, which has a tradition of resistance to outside rule. Many young men have led the fight against ISIS
. Support for relations with Israel is common in this part of Kurdistan, where many see a common bond with Jews and the Jewish state.
As president, Peres expressed his support for Kurdish aspirations in a 2014 discussion with US President Barack Obama.
“The Kurds have de facto created their own state, which is democratic.” He noted that “equality of women” was one central aspect of democracy in the Kurdish region.
After leaving office, Peres met briefly with Masoud Barzani, the president of the KRG, in 2015, at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa in Jordan.